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Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009

Wild Space Dance Company’s Ambitious ‘Elements’

Dance Review

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Wild Space Dance Company opened its season last weekend with the premiere of Trace Elements, a generous, daringly ambitious and wholly successful reflection on Milwaukee’s Historic Turner Hall that made the building again a home to working visionaries who know that the health of a city is directly related to the health of its cultural life. By turns playful and haunted, the full-length, two-act dance theater piece shied from none of the challenges and implications of its setting.

The large audience, many of them young, entered directly to the basement. We were divided into six groups and led to six areas separated by white curtains. Each group viewed a scene and then went to another area, until all had seen six dances. Each dance made surprising use of a gymnastic apparatus, including a vast climbing wall, a trampoline and a stack of mats draped in vines like a tomb or monument.

Bird imagery, twinned dancers (duality), an apple a day, and the striving for physical and intellectual mastery echoed through scenes filled with flight, falling and verbal messages such as “Understand that you’re not alone.” The sounds of the dancers and equipment, spoken text, laughter, birds, a music box, and the audience’s applause also reverberated, creating mysteries and links. The curtains fell, widening everyone’s view, as four dancers in harnesses and ropes flew in stunning partnership before slowly returning to this mortal coil.

In the darkly romantic second act in the upstairs ballroom, Milwaukee’s idealistic German ancestors were further contemporized. With a perfect score, lighting and ballroom clothing, the vital dancers seemed fragile, peering into darkness and covering one another’s eyes. Backs were turned, bodies faded into memory, leaving high-heeled shoes across the polished dance floor. Wild Space Artistic Director Deb Loewen clearly loves her charismatic performers, and each was splendid.